Escape Dead Island – Preview

Compared to the next generation offering of Dead Island 2, the current generation offering of Escape Dead Island is completely different.

Dead Island is now seen as a franchise and developers Fatshark have created a very enjoyable single player experience. The story is that you are Cliff. A son of a wealthy media mogul who’s a bit of a socialite douchebag and wanted to make his impact on the world having been in daddy’s shadow for too long. You hear of the first infection from Dead Island and make the gargantuan stupid move that only rich-searching for relevance-brats can make: You get a boat and go to the island with a few friends to make a difference.

escape dead island preview 1Except it doesn’t go to plan, you crash on another island in the archipelago and so you begin your slow descent into the fictional world of zombie bashing insanity. Insanity is actually very key here as the game is incredibly surreal. The descent in to madness is both a physical journey and a mental one here in Escape Dead Island. Stretching the boundaries of what your character is perceiving and leaving you to question his sanity and the reality of the world around him.

The big aid in achieving this element is the comic book art styling of the game. You might know it as cel shaded or as Borderlands style (if you’re that young). But it creates a world of 60s comic book action campness with splat’s, kapow’s and bokko’s coming from every hit. Well everything except the bokko… That was from the Young Ones, but you get the picture. It blends it well with a more modern visual styling of the world and the characters. You may think The Walking Dead both in comic book and Telltale Games feeling but I would go a step further, given the insanity aspect of it and say that it reminded me of the Keanu Reeves movie of the Philip K. Dick book “A Scanner Darkly.”

The game itself plays third person as a big semi open world arena of stealth attack and world manipulation. In fact the whole effort to keep it simple aids the game environment a lot. There’s no HUD, no inventory and simple controls. The weapons you have change and upgrade as you find things throughout the world in the staggered narrative order you’re supposed to. Narrative, especially compared to Dead Island 2 is the key thing here. It is an adventure game, not an RPG. You do get to visit places in the world you’ve already explored so that you can get things that you need or collectables.

escape dead island preview 2The world environment is a wonderful, almost semi cartoonish place. It blends the more realistic elements of some things like the big cargo ship containers and the beach huts of the island, with the more surreal action that unfurls around it. The idea of the franchise of ‘Paradise Meets Hell’ is in full effect both visually and in the narrative.

The decision to go with the previous generation may seem a bit stuck in the past but actually makes good sense as most Dead Island fans will still be on the previous generation of consoles or at least own them. This will be out towards the end of this year for the Xbox 360, PS3 and PC. It may come to next gen in future but for right now it is sticking with the old. The game does have some replay value despite being very linear and single player with a new game plus mode but there are no difficulty settings.

The atmospheric approach to this game as a spin off of the main franchise storyline is interesting and it’s certainly worth a play, especially if that is your kind of thing. The focus on hyper-reality and narrative background in the canon of the Dead Island story will make itself clear in the full game. But it isn’t going to scare you. In fact this is much more of a survival thriller and more psychological than horror. With a hint of mystery thrown in to the mix. When the game arrives later this year, hopefully we’ll understand a lot more. Or will we?


 

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EA Report – GamesCom 2014

BattleFieldHardline

Back in to the big belly of the noisy beast that is GamesCom, we got a chance to see the EA briefing. And, if we’re honest, we were expecting bigger, right?

To start with, we were given some gameplay footage of Dragon Age: Inquisition (not the last offering from Bioware yet). It certainly looks good and the tactical view element of the game takes it out of the standard RPG gameplay a bit, almost in to turn based strategy. The idea is that you go around and kill things in order to build your army to save the world and if you kill those big things, smaller things will join you as you just made them redundant to their now deceased employer. The thing is, even with the Tom Hiddleston-sounding hero (I have no idea if it is him but it definitely sounded like him or at least channeled his Loki), it doesn’t seem like there’s a lot on offer that hasn’t already been offered by the series. Apart from the hours. The game looks set to be a big one with lots of dialogue and a story that at their last play through took 150 hours. Speed runners everywhere are going to enjoy nailing that down. Hopefully there is enough with the next generation platform and the story to really make the game different from its previous franchise siblings.

fifa15HOCKEY! Strangely NHL and FIFA were the only sports games on display, but NHL looks very, very good. It’s been good for a while but the next generation in consoles is allowing for a lot deeper resolution and authenticity in the arenas, much better physics for both the players and the pucks, fighting, and on screen presentation. Covered by American network NBC, we have two actual commentators giving to-camera links for the game, as in real life. But these aren’t computer generated guys, no they’ve superimposed these people from high def video recordings made for the game, which is looking so good now that it is apparently seamless integration. FIFA World had a game engine update and the biggest news to come out of FIFA 15 is that the goalkeepers have had an overhaul. New animations by World Cup hero Tim Howard and new AI should help the games get that little bit more juicy in the goal mouth… I’m never saying that again. The annoying thing is that America gets the game before the EU. Sorry Americans, I know you like it but it isn’t your sport as much as it is here and I don’t see why you have to get it early.

THE SIMS 4! Complete with Death coming to take dead people away. Death who looks like he came dressed from an Assassins Creed cosplay. Of course the game looks great and we were treated to a very long partially ad-libbed demo (Angela Merkel selfie anyone?) but it is The Sims. We know exactly what we’re getting. Cool social mechanics for the characters and the building options now can drag and drop whole rooms which is cool. Lots of fun customisation tools and no doubt a ream of DLC to last for the next five years. Fun, but lets move along please.

If 2013 was the year of too many Candy Crush-a likes then 2014 will be known for the abundance of MOBA. Dawngate is the new offering for the top down tactical destruction category that is taking the internet and competitive gaming by storm. I’d argue with how many we have that are also free to play, and now with Smite coming to console, if we really need this. I certainly saw a lot of people playing it after so maybe it will have more legs than I’m giving it right now.

Bioware not only gave us Dragon Age, but some new expanded content for Star Wars: The Old Republic (is the community still that jazzed for it after 4 years?) and finally their new IP. Console owners, go home. It’s PC time with Shadow Realms, a title seemingly made up of cool sounding Dungeons and Dragons areas. The comparisons don’t stop there as the game is a modern fantasy MMORPG where it’s four players verses one player as the bad guy. Think D&D (Think Evolve?). It looks like it could be cool and will be going in to a closed beta next month so sign up now.

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After the disappointment of Battlefield Hardline post-E3, this reveal could not be more different. In fact it is worlds apart from the beta we all played both in style and visuals. I heard a lot of Far Cry comparisons and the game is certainly trying to take itself away from the CoD competing big open battlefield stuff that it is used to. Very much walking down tight corridor stuff at times to be precise. But it looked very good and the focus on non-lethal adds a new dimension to the game. You can see its inspiration from modern television in the setting (big desert like Breaking Bad-esque areas) and the story whilst a bit hammy certainly goes in with the rebirth of the action hero. Lots to get excited about for next year and another beta will happen.

Do you have any thoughts on EA’s showcase at GamesCom 2014? Why not leave a comment on Facebook or tweet us @thegamejar and let us know.

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Xbox Report – GamesCom 2014

halo 5 feat

It’s that time of year again where the post-E3 glow has faded and another mid-summer pep up is needed to remind you to spend your Autumn cash. However before we go in to anything, I feel that, given the fallout from earlier, a glossary is needed for your understanding. So here we go:

Exclusive: A game or DLC that is only available on one console.

Timed Exclusive: A game or DLC that is available on one console for a period of time before being released to other consoles/platforms.

First on Console: A game that may already be out on other platforms but will appear on this console first, before others, with a time not determined.


 

So here is the big news of the day:

Rise of the Tomb Raider, the sequel to the incredibly well received Tomb Raider reboot of 2012 and the definitive Next-Gen editions, will be an Xbox exclusive. You might well have already seen the meltdown that this has caused on social networks and a fairly glib press release from Crystal Dynamics as to their reasons why. The facts are this: Sony’s twenty year relationship with heroine Lara Croft is at an end. The numbers we are assured add up, despite 10 million PS4’s being sold and supposedly outselling the Xbox One 3:1 along with the previous game outselling on PS4 2:1. I’m sure more will come over the coming months to explain what is seen as a very corporate and business based move.

Xbox One - WhiteSecondly is the big news on console packages that are being released. FIFA 15 will come with a console package as will, curiously, Sunset Overdrive with an exclusive white console. These are the standard Xbox One’s compared to the package shipping with Call of Duty Advanced Warfare.

So far, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the new Call of Duty was an Xbox One exclusive. It’s not but the communications certainly feel that way both in magazines and in the press. The timed exclusivity of DLC for Xbox is the only thing about the game that is completely Xbox for the time being. However the new package of a custom skinned Xbox and a digital version of the Day Zero edition along with a custom pad and (this is the big unit shifter) a 1TB (read that TERRABYTE) hard drive. That is actually a pretty sweet package and the single player gameplay footage looked very good. You may have many comparisons already but none of your games have Jason Statham sound-a-likes saying “bastards” after the Golden Gate Bridge is reduced to rubble.

In fact that swear made me note how the trailer for Sunset Overdrive was censored for saying ass. The console package is a strange one for this exclusive as there is an uncertainty about the game, if it is as good as it promises to be and if Xbox are putting way too many eggs in their basket. It looks very colourful, crazy and anarchic. But so did Brink… Remember Brink?

Of course you want to know about Halo and what we learned. Well, not much that we didn’t already know. We got to see some excellent footage running at a slightly weird 60 fps (weird as I’m so used to not seeing that in a Halo game) and that the new Netflix-esque Halo Channel (a newer sibling of Halo Waypoint) will give us exclusive game reward based content, social experiences and a whole lot more, including of course Halo Guardians.

The best news though is that the silence has broken over Quantum Break. Ever the coolest dude on planet earth, Sam Lake graced the stage and presented a time-bending third person action adventure where you can manipulate your world to your advantage in an effort to fix time, which has been broken by a big mean corporate baddy. Think the bullet time mechanics of Max Payne, or the Lucasarts game Fracture or Sierra’s Timeshift, with a story kind of like The Philadelphia Experiement (younger readers may need to search that one) that meets Quantum Leap/Sliders. But it looks pretty cool, even if we aren’t entirely sure why.

Fable Legends gave us a peek into the eye of evil, allowing us to play as THE bad guy, as opposed to playing a guy making evil choices. Forza Horizon 2 looked and played like a glossy Need for Speed Rivals cum Burnout with a bigger car set. Infact they also released the first ever Rolls Royce for a racing game and the new Formula E Renault Spark car for Forza 5 for free download, the latter of which is actually sitting in front of me in reality.

The casual mentions of Grand Theft Auto 5 were there along with a load of exclusive footballers for FIFA 15’s legends in Ultimate Team. Presented by Peter Schmeichel who effortlessly picked himself and his countrymen, the Laudrup brothers. The new mode has the England legends of Sir Bobby Moore and Alan Shearer along with Irish man mountain Roy Keane and Jay-Jay Okocha… Yes, you read that right.

The big kudos has to go to ID@Xbox, the indie game division. Because the line up for that is outstanding. All of these will be first on console (see your glossary) and include such big hitters as Plague Inc. Goat Simulator, Smite, Speed Runners (that should be excellent on consoles) and the fantastic Space Engineers. All of which have lit up steam and YouTube for the past year. There’s also Fruit Ninja Kinect 2, Frontier’s exclusive SteamRide (a Rollercoaster Tycoon/PAIN hybrid) which is an interesting development given the big IP that Frontier currently have that has been touted to grace consoles in future, and the very very quaint and exciting prison RPG The Escapists from Team 17, who will also be giving their back catalogue to the Xbox. Another indie exclusive is the beautiful art platformer Ori and the Blind Forest for which will also come to PC with its Trine/Child of Light-esque visuals and reality warping puzzles. Very pretty.

Down on the floor I got to get a hands on with Call of Duty, Halo 2, Forza Horizon 2, Minecraft Xbox One edition and Dying light along with some lovely demonstration gameplay of everything else. Keep your eyes peeled to TheGameJar and our twitter feeds throughout the week.

We got to see some videos of other games which were certainly interesting but not exclusive. The big story here though is the massive coup, if you want to call it that of snagging Tomb Raider away from what’s seen as its rightful home, new consoles and a great batch of indie games. The console maybe be statistically falling in sales to the PS4 but don’t count out the Xbox One yet. There is life and that life does indeed look very exciting.

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You know, this whole camouflage thing, for me, doesn’t work very well.

It’s 6am and I’m in Gatwick Airport waiting for a flight. Just before I forced myself to sleep hours before, it was announced that Robin Williams had died of suspected suicide.

Depression, as the quote I’ve adapted in the title from a Williams movie, is a tragic burden on a human. There is nothing more criminal to the human psyche than being trapped in it’s own tortuous prison. Such a high profile victim of the affliction can only highlight its reality.

But that conversation is for better qualified people than me. Robin Williams’ body and variation of work is astounding. You could argue that he was one of the first truly comedic actors to make the leap from comedy or farce on screen to serious acting. His roles from Good Will Hunting and in my opinion the deeply underrated One Hour Photo are a testament to his range.

Of course his comedy has known no bounds: Hook, Mrs Doubtfire, et al. But I want to thank him for one thing, the movie that the title quote is from, Good Morning Vietnam.

It’s a movie that might have lost a bit of an edge now but was always well respected for it’s soundtrack. That’s what got me in to it for sure, before Williams’ excellent anarchistic portrayal of the zany radio host mentally plagued by the realities of war censorship.

My mother grew up watching the Vietnam war unfold on television. For the first time in history, television images of gunfire, death and flames beamed themselves in to living room sets around the globe. And for my mother, along with countless other young teenagers no doubt, it was horrifying and traumatic to see.

As such, drama and movies about the Vietnam war and war in general are unable to be watched in my house. I don’t have the same problem having been conditioned from a very young age of the televised atrocities of conflict (which in a supposedly civilised age is a worrying statement). But for my mother it was too much.

Until Good Morning Vietnam. Gritty in its own right, it presented a lighter, more detached picture of the conflict. A focus much more on the condition around war as opposed to war itself, allowed my mother to watch it and thanks to Williams, enjoy herself. That put a slightly more palatable spin on that part of history for her and for us, we were able to share a movie that at a young age taught me about about the duality of conflict and some of my first truly adult conversations with my parents.

So I thank Robin Williams not only for everything he’s done in his career but how a little thing like this enabled a person to revisit a period of history previously too much for them and to be able to share experiences and memories with a family. I’m sure many other families and people will have the same kind of moments and memories of Williams’ work during their life.

It’s tragic and wrong that such a thing not only could happen but happen to someone so loved. But it happens and the sooner ignorance around it is addressed the better. Until then, I’ll put on I Feel Good by James Brown and I’ll keep looking for that second star to the right.

Give me a better metaphor

Back to the drawing board… Which is probably why this is all going so badly, because I can’t draw. Does anyone fancy giving me a more personally accurate metaphor to my skills please?

I’ve spent a lot of time wondering if I was going to discuss this publicly at all if it didn’t work out. It hasn’t worked out, so I’m going to discuss some of it. If you’re a friend of mine then I apologise. That sounds like I’m being hard on myself but I really am. I’ve been particularly shit company lately and if you hadn’t noticed or if I seem to put on a act then I’m better at that than I thought I was and believe me, that act is purely for you.

I’m caught between the strange sensation of feeling sorry for oneself, keeping a positive mental attitude to everyone, trying not to just vegetate in a chair until I can have a alcoholic beverage at a socially acceptable time and just laying down and hoping nature reclaims me.

I had a plan B. If you don’t know about plan A (get a job) then check the article I did a while back for “How To Be Jobless” run by the excellent Erica Buist. Plan B was to get in to education again and do a masters. However plan B required me to have some sort of success with plan A in order to finance it, given that plan X (write for a living) so far has grossed me a grand total of around £900 in four years.

I ummmed and aaaahd about it because financial stress is not a thing that I need more of. After a particularly intriguing, depressing and drunken night out to celebrate the launch of a university anthology I discussed the idea with my former tutors and friends.

Before I come on to that though, how depressing and horrible is it to be the one guy at a semi reunion failing at life? I mean it wasn’t an exact reunion because we’ve seen each other a few times since university but, and I can hear the voices telling me to stop being so hard on myself already, I am decidedly the worst of our graduating class in the present tense. We were asked to give advice to the next crop of graduates and I declined because I felt telling them I was going to sign on after a year of rejection hell wasn’t the truth they were probably looking for. I do like these reunions because I miss my friends and care a lot about their successes and want to support them. I have a friend in Edinburgh right now… Two technically, and another with an excellent opportunity with Auntie so it’s great that they’re doing so well, along with everyone else.

But I discussed my options with two people who I hold in very high regard for their consul, along with my friends. So I bit the bullet. I applied for a Masters at a prestigious university that I hoped would help my dream cause and found a scholarship program with an equally prestigious organisation to fund it.

I’ve had a year of getting nowhere but it is true that getting closer and failing hurts more. So let me say now that this isn’t a rant, I’m not imparting blame on anyone but myself and the cosmic designs at work to ensure my constant unhappiness and rebuttal of hope.

So I had an interview with said prestigious organisation and the prestigious university asked for references very quickly. I had the hope. It was one of the most nervous things I’ve ever done, the interview, and I’ve asked out girls far prettier and more amazing than a man like me should be deserving of. I got to talk about my favourite things with some amazing people and, apart from it being an incredibly hot day with public transport delays and London reeking of perspiration, I did well.

I still believe that. Despite the fact that late last Friday I found out I was unsuccessful. Which left me very… low. I wasn’t relying on it but it had been a while for a decision and delays breed hope of better news. It also left me with a financial quandary which was soon addressed at 1:10am this morning with a rejection email from the university for the MA programme. So over the course of a long weekend, plan B was fucked.

I haven’t really publicly addressed this because I didn’t tell that many people. In fact this is the first I’ve said to many people about what I was doing because I didn’t want hopes to get up, etc. I’m not exactly happy with myself or the situation and I’m taking this kind of hard. Because I know that it isn’t the last opportunity I have for more education but it was certainly one of the best. Plus going back to a constant grind of job applications and if I’m lucky responses of rejection from them isn’t the most appealing prospect.

I’m trying to focus on the exciting things coming up. I’m going to Germany in a week or so to cover GamesCom 2014, the big European game industry show. I hoped that I could get paid for some freelance work while I’m there which has been another disappointment so it’s a financial mess and an excuse for me to have a holiday/make contacts and give out my new business cards (don’t worry, they aren’t bone colouring with a silian rail type font). I’m also a few thousand words into what I think might become a novel.

But for now, I’m feeling pretty shitty. I feel sorry for my parents who have to put up with me in my grumpy defeated way because it’s not anyone’s fault really and it’s completely out of their control. So please, find me a better metaphor for going back to square one (another strange etymologically mysterious phrase), back to the drowning board, whatever. Because at least if I can get anything out of the past 16 months of disappointing, soul sapping, hope crushing, demoralising hell, then I’d like it to be a personalised one liner metaphor.

The Illusion of Choice

Choice (noun):

1. An act of choosing.
2. The right or ability to choose
3. A range from which to choose.
4. Something chosen

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Illusion (noun):

1. A false idea or belief.
2. A thing that seems to be something it is not.

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The illusion of choice is something that gaming truly thrives upon. Open world genre is a specialist of following through with that illusion. But I will come on to that with more detail. What do I mean by this statement?

Well the word definition above from the Oxford English Dictionary would suggest that in gaming terms I mean it is the false idea or belief that you have the right or ability to choose.

Gaming is built on this very illusion and sometimes, only sometimes, a game comes along that is clever enough to address it. Most times, we don’t even think about it or very occasionally the game surprises us by blatantly providing the illusion.

gta4Grand Theft Auto 4 is my first example of the latter. Of course Grand Theft Auto 5 is littered by choices but its predecessor provides the best example of the illusion. The final mission is a consequence of the choice you make before shortly before. But this choice is an illusion. The character may change that is affected by this choice and the end game of this might be slightly different as to who is still available to socalise with, but essentially, exactly the same thing happens.

A character close to Niko’s life dies at the hands of a betrayl starting a multi layered end mission filled of gun blazing revenge. It is essentially the same drama and this later choice isn’t really a choice that changes anything in the game except who dies. Arguably the dramatic choice is the revenge on Dimitri rather than Jimmy but the outcome is the exactly the same.

So the choice that you make at that later stage is in fact an illusion because you’re not really choosing anything except death and before that, you have no knowledge that the choice defines who dies.

That may sound like I’m clutching at straws but if that decision was placed earlier in the game and the story went on a different tangent of associates depending on that choice then I would be more convinced that it is a choice. Compare it to Grand Theft Auto 5 where your final choice redefines your accessibility to the world and the characters reactions to you.

fallout 3 1Games like the Elder Scrolls and Fallout present you with the massive illusion of choice. It is possible to survive in the world and just live in it without completing a single mission. Of course it severely limits your ability to enjoy the game and eventually you will have to succumb to completing missions so that you can buy things, survive and defend yourself. Which is where the illusion comes in. You are presented with a completely free world open to wherever you want to go. However eventually, you will have to do something that the game intends you to do. You have a lot of choice as to how and when you go about it (apart from Fallout 3’s ending stopping your game).

For example a friend of mine booted up Oblivion on his brother’s computer. Never played it before and after the prison escape, he walked around, found a cool looking gate and when through. What then happened was that he completed the Shivering Isle add on, completely unaware that it was such and hadn’t even touched the main story and to my knowledge still hasn’t. Whilst there has been a choice the game still drive you to complete its missions regardless of how linear it isn’t.

Watch_Dogs on the other hand has practically zero choice. You go through the game in an incredibly linear fashion and you have very little to do in the end game except collecting things. It is in a way antithetical to the genre as there is so little that you can do, compared to other examples in the genre. Alan Wake for example and many other games will force a repeat play through to find the things that you’ve missed which is fun sometimes because you get to relive the bits that you enjoyed and pay more attention to the world around you. These games, first person shooters especially, of course do not even bother with the illusion of choice…

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Except one. Bioshock.

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Bioshock Infinite Burial At Sea 1 featMuch has been written and lauded about the genre defining moment in which that you have been the willing pawn in a sick and twisted game. I mean you specifically, not your character. The universe of this franchise eventually ends completely destroying any illusion of choice by bringing the world into an infinite paradox. But its stand out moment way back in Rapture fully broke the fourth wall and opened up the illusion of choice in both story and gaming mechanics. It’s an amazing moment with some far reaching dramatic consequences. But it is also video gaming’s Magic circle moment where the tricks where shown and explained.

I’ve spent a good hour or so writing these thoughts on choice and I’m completely glossing over lots of games, moments and gaming theory. But I’m stuck trying to think if I can think of a game that is truly free of this illusion. Minecraft instantly comes to mind along with its building contemporaries like Terraria, Starbound and the like. Maybe some city builders too, although games like Sim City and its younger contemporaries still don’t feel completely free of direction. But one game I think really takes away all notion of illusion is a strategy giant.

If I can think of one game that completely rewards your choices, and punishes them too, gives you objectives only and leaves you to the devices of its AI and allow you to glory or failure. That game is Civilization. Arguably the mark of any good strategy game is one that gives you that illusion of your own choice and consequence to succeed how you want to and any iteration of Sid Meier’s classic franchise gives you the option to dispense of the scenario based win and allow you to sink hours and hours in to your choices. It, along with Minecraft maybe, answers as an opposite to the earlier supposition.

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